It is currently Afternoon Tea Week, an annual event that celebrates the great British tradition of tea time. Through August 14, Eileen Leahy reveals the history of this centuries-old tradition and where to sample an assortment of sweet and savory treats locally…
From quaint country tearooms to rustic farmhouse shops and luxury hotels, you’re never too far from a silver stand of sandwiches, gooey cakes and freshly baked scones in and around Tunbridge Wells.
And this week, there are plenty of places offering a range of indulgent afternoon delights thanks to National Afternoon Tea Week.
Until August 14, many local addresses are offering delicious teatime treats – and special offers – to mark this event which celebrates this centuries-old tradition.
But how did serving sandwiches, scones and sweet cakes begin?
Well, with the growing popularity of tea drinking in the 19th century, it is said that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, and other ladies of the upper social classes would get a little peckish before dinner.
The solution? For a nice cup of tea and a light mid-afternoon snack to keep hunger pangs at bay. It quickly became part of the Duchess’ daily routine, and so she began to invite friends over to join her for refreshments.
However, it was thanks to Queen Victoria that afternoon tea became the most formal event we enjoy today. During his reign, the service of tea became increasingly grand – and enjoying the ritual in the country’s famous dining rooms reflected his social status.
Etiquette also played a big role, from the dress code to how the tea was poured and stirred.
Today, of course, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to serving an afternoon tea, but traditionally it will consist of an ornate three-tiered cake stand displaying a selection of delicate sandwiches and other savouries, warm scones accompanied by tubs of clotted cream. and preserves, as well as a variety of visually appealing cakes and pastries.
This mouth-watering spread will usually come with your choice of a pot of freshly brewed loose leaf tea, usually Earl Grey, Darjeeling and Assam are offered. But more and more glasses of bubbly – Champagne or Prosecco – are becoming the drink of choice for many along with their savory and sweet treats.
Henry James (1843-1916), the great American author who spent most of his writing life in England, said: “There are few hours in life more pleasant than the hour devoted to ceremony known as afternoon tea. So with that in mind, we pick our favorite local spots where you can indulge in afternoon tea…
FIELD OF SOLOMONS
Ideal for stunning views or being outdoors – if you want to get away from the urban sprawl and feel at one with nature, head to the stylish Salomons estate on the border between Tunbridge Wells and Southborough. Here they offer a delicious Prosecco afternoon tea, accompanied by a selection of fresh sandwiches, scones and traditional sweets for you to enjoy as you dine on the beautiful conservatory and take in the impressive – and very large – lot and lake. Prices are £22.50 pp and if you book during Afternoon Tea Week (until August 14) you can also enjoy a complimentary glass of prosecco.
Vintage chic – this cool little cafe in Tunbridge Wells High Street focuses on providing its customers with fantastic home-baked cakes and specialty teas, and is a hot spot for afternoon tea. But they also offer takeaway tea baskets which you can pre-order (with 72 hours notice) for £45 for two and enjoy at your chosen location. The basket includes a selection of coronation chicken, cucumber with mint creme fraiche and smoked salmon with cream cheese and dill as well as vegan options like avocado, tomato and arugula . Then, of course, there are loads of Victorian sponges and fruit and plain scones to feast on too!
THE SPA HOTEL
Classic – served Wednesday to Sunday in the hotel’s beautiful orangery from 1.30pm to 4pm, this is the place to go for something really special. Tables are set with a deluxe assortment of homemade scones, gourmet cakes and delicate finger sandwiches are offered with a selection of aromatic teas – or, if you prefer, a glass of Nyetimber. Prices start from £27 per person or £40 if you have the Nyetimber option.
A WARWICK PARK
Contemporary – located in Chapel Place, this chic hotel opens its doors specially for two dates to celebrate National Afternoon Tea Week. On Thursday 11th August and Sunday 14th August you can enjoy a delicious selection of afternoon tea, consisting of traditional tea (£25), an offer of Prosecco (£28.50) or a choice of champagne (£33.50). Mouth-watering savory bites and delicacies created by the hotel’s talented pastry chefs, this event promises to be not to be missed!
The luxury treat – the quintessentially British restaurant on the high street has teamed up with Laurent Perrier to offer a glass of rosé champagne with their afternoon tea experience. This includes a delicious range of sandwiches, including smoked salmon and Ivy Cure cream cheese fingers, a grilled chicken and truffle mayonnaise bun and two-tier rolls of pickled cucumber, zucchini and basil. Freshly baked fruit scones are served with clotted cream, fresh strawberries and strawberry jam, while sweets include a chocolate plant pot, lemon curd madeleine, red velvet cake with raspberry and a strawberry milkshake, all accompanied by a choice of teas, infusions or coffees. Summer Afternoon Tea starts from £28.95pp, or £37.95pp with a glass of Laurent Perrier Rosé Champagne, and is available seven days a week and served between 3pm and 4:45 p.m.